My sister and I were once matching watermelons for Easter. It was the era of homemade jumpers and we thought we were hitting the fashion high notes with our white polka dot dresses and red moon-shaped collars with green trim. In the pictures we are proud of our watermelon dresses, my hair blazing red in the Sunday sun, my sister's a platinum blonde, both bearing an attempt at smooth, curled under ends, the pride and joy of another Easter morning.
We were evangelical church goers, that kind of non-denominational congregation of the 1980's and 90's that met in high school gyms and used words like Faith, Bible, or Grace in their straightforward names. We were Easter committed but not fanatical. We were devoted and devout but not liturgical. I knew the story of the Cross and the Resurrection. I loved Easter not because I thought it was about bunnies and peeps and chocolate. But like most kids, I was more keen about the egg hunt and finding my easter basket than I was about lifting my hands in praise to the Risen Lord.
I don't think my lack of passion for the Passion had much to do with what our parents set out to teach us. My mom was and is a thoughtful worshiper, and she tried to make holidays meaningful. I remember getting up at sunrise to sit on the small rise of grass in our backyard, eating warm muffins out of the basket and sipping hot chocolate. We may have read the Easter story, in fact I know that was the point of being out there-- a sort of visceral experience to heighten our internal awareness, but what I remember is the muffins and my breath in the still frosty air and the sun peaking up over the rooftops of the ranch houses that lined our neighborhood.
And through no one's fault or intention, Easter came and went with it's own bells and whistles, it's midwestern American flair, it's lunch with friends and colored eggs strewn over the yard, filled with meaningful attempts and half hearted material liturgies, but so often leaving me less than Spirited. And so years later, I still come to Easter on that road just outside of the palm strewn pathway, asking along with those *Greeks who bothered Philip, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus."
Years later, and every year in some way, I set my face toward Jerusalem, trying as best I can with my unorthodox roots, my lack of high church upbringing, my lonesome liturgies, to see Jesus. I set out, hoping that I can enter through some way, some rite, some practice, into the reality of a worship-filled Easter, an Easter where Jesus shows up. It's that memory of muffins and blades of wet, dew covered grass, that seeking of a physical practice that will heighten an internal awareness. I know somehow that I'm made not just of flesh, or of spirit, but of both.
Those Greeks who were seeking Jesus, they went to the right people-- Philip and Andrew, close friends who had personal access. And Philip and Andrew tried to gain them a face to face meeting. But as usual, Jesus responded with something sage, if not a little confusing: a sermonette on the way of wheat seeds. How a kernel falling to the ground and dying is like a good life, so that loving your life means you will lose it, while losing your life in this world means you will gain it eternally. And how somehow by dying he would gain glory.
As Holy Week begins, and I look ahead to another Easter celebration, another singled out day to celebrate what I really want to know every single day, I'm setting out to listen to Jesus words like those Greek men who came seeking. Because they wanted to see him, and so do I.
They wanted to see him, and Jesus presented himself on his own terms. No manufactured worship, no fluffy-bunnied faith. To come to Jesus, to see him for who he is and to worship him in real spirit and truth, in the flesh, is to take him at all his words. I think you can do that in matching watermelon dresses, or robed in ecclesial formality. But there's a faith that has to see through it all to the God-Man who stands as high as the real life heavens, and hidden as a seed buried in the ground.
*text from John 12
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up[g] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.